White House senior adviser Stephen Miller is the mastermind behind many of the Trump administration’s widely condemned immigration policies, including family separation, the Muslim ban and slashing the number of refugees admitted to the United States. Now he’s behind a proposal that will make it harder for immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of public benefit programs, including Obamacare, children’s health insurance and food stamps. Stephen Miller’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are leading some in his own family to speak out against him. We speak with Dr. David Glosser, Miller’s uncle, who recently wrote a piece for Politico magazine titled “Stephen Miller Is an Immigration Hypocrite. I Know Because I’m His Uncle.” In it, he wrote, “If my nephew’s ideas on immigration had been in force a century ago, our family would have been wiped out.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to take a closer look at the author of Trump’s speech at the United Nations on Tuesday, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, architect of widely condemned immigration policies such as family separation. Miller also pushed for the recent decision to significantly cut the number of refugees the United States will accept, as well as a proposal that will make it harder for immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of public benefit programs, including Obamacare, children’s health insurance and food stamps. This is part of Trump’s address that Miller wrote.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Illegal immigration exploits vulnerable populations, hurts hard-working citizens and has produced a vicious cycle of crime, violence and poverty.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, many handcrafted by Stephen Miller, are leading some in Miller’s own family to speak out against Stephen Miller. This includes Dr. David Glosser, Miller’s uncle, who recently wrote a piece for Politico magazine headlined “Stephen Miller Is an Immigration Hypocrite. I Know Because I’m His Uncle.” In it, he wrote, “If my nephew’s ideas on immigration had been in force a century ago, our family would have been wiped out.”
For more, we go to Philadelphia to speak with Dr. Glosser, a retired neuropsychologist and former faculty member at Boston University School of Medicine and Jefferson Medical College, now works as a volunteer with refugees in Philadelphia.
Dr. Glosser, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about Stephen Miller. Talk about your family and why—and Stephen Miller’s policies.
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: I’d be happy to talk about it. As you have alluded to, I wrote an article for Politico about a month or so ago in response to what I regarded as intolerable policies in the United States government towards the treatment of refugees. It was a decision I made not lightly, in light of the family connection. Please excuse my voice; I’ve been a bit under the weather lately, so I’ll do the best I can.
So I made the decision to write this article for two main reasons. One was to make it clear that our family stood for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, and also because the policies which are being advanced by the Trump administration, in terms of refugees—in terms of the management and the treatment of refugees, represent a significant danger to American citizens, as well, since it entails a serious attack on democracy.
We see here now that American law and policy are being officially made on the basis of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity. This is a great danger to American citizens, as well as to the refugees. If today it becomes normalized in political discussion to be able to make laws and regulations on the basis of this nature, then it exposes all of us to danger of being targeted next. Today it’s them; today it could be you, could be me, could be anybody.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Glosser, have you had occasion to discuss with your nephew some of these policies at all? And your sense of his direct involvement in shaping them?
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: As I’ve made clear with other interviews and with publications, I’ve only met Stephen Miller perhaps 10 times throughout his childhood, and the last time I had a meaningful discussion with him was probably five years ago. So I don’t have any inside insight into this, nor has he specifically discussed anything of this nature with me. What I know about Stephen’s positions on immigration, migration and other policies are entirely from his public persona.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your own family and what would have happened to your family if the immigration policies that Stephen Miller is pushing for were in place when they came to this country?
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: Well, that’s a pretty simple question to answer and one that is not uncommon. My family originated, at least as far as we can trace, from an area of the former Russian Empire, which is now in the country of Belarus. Our family—my great-grandfather and his family, we believe, had been there for a couple of hundred years until the early 1900s. My great-grandfather and his family were dirt poor, lived in a hovel in a tiny townlet of Antopol, barely subsiding—they were basically subsistence farmers and traders. There were lots of children, some of whom survived into adulthood, some of whom did not.
In the late 1800s, early 1900s, the czarist regime made it a point of public policy to ramp up persecution of Jewish people living in what was called the Pale of Settlement. This took the form of organized attacks by state-sponsored troops, Cossacks and so forth, as well as encouraged and unpunished attacks by gangs and other rabble-rousers. So the atmosphere of anti-Semitism was extremely strong. My grandfather, Sam, in fact, as a child, lost an eye in one of these attacks.
Not too long thereafter, my great-grandfather—his name was Wolf— made the decision that there was no real viable future for them in that part of the world. And so, in 1903, he took passage. He scraped up enough money to take passage on a ship to the United States, where he followed his older brother. He and his older brother did sweatshop work and peddling fruit on street corners in New York City until they were able to raise enough money to bring over the balance of the immediate family. That happened in 1906.
The family prospered. We settled in western Pennsylvania in my hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which was a burgeoning iron and steel center at the time. And we developed a business, which ultimately was listed on the American Stock Exchange, which hired thousands of people over the years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Glosser, what kind of immigration restrictions existed at the time when your family came, in terms—as refugees fleeing those conditions in their home country?
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: Well, the United States essentially had no serious immigration laws at all until roughly 1882, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was put into place. And at that time, as now, immigration policy in the United States was determined to a great extent upon labor needs and on racial preferences. After the Chinese Exclusion Act, the next major immigration law had to do—was in 1924. The America Firsters of the day, who described themselves in that way, were essentially—had adopted a nativist position, saying that the only real Americans were those that were already there: white Americans. And they wanted to also—they wanted to reduce the number of immigrants coming in entirely, and they wanted to bar immigrants from certain regions and from certain countries.
So, in 1924, the exclusion act of those years essentially barred Catholics from Southern Europe and from Ireland and Jews from the Russian Empire. Accordingly, the 74 members of our family that had decided earlier not to come to the United States or were unable to go, when war broke out in Europe in the late 1930s, they were unable to come to the United States. We couldn’t bring them over. And in our family, there were 74 members that we could trace; none of them survived the war. They were all wiped out and murdered, exterminated.
There had been 5,000 Jews in the town of Antopol at its height. At the start of World War II, there were 2,000. After the war, there were 74 who survived. So it’s not a theoretical question what would have happened to the family; it’s a real question about what did happen to the family. And the answer is they were all murdered. They had no place to go. Nobody would take them.
AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering your reaction, Dr. Glosser, when Stephen Miller’s childhood rabbi, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom, denounced Miller during his Rosh Hashanah sermon earlier this month, calling Stephen Miller a purveyor of “negativity, violence, malice and brutality.” He said, quote, “Mr. Miller, you’ve set back the Jewish contribution to making the world spiritually whole through your arbitrary division of these desperate people. … The actions that you now encourage President Trump to take make it obvious to me that you didn’t get my, or our, Jewish message”—addressing him by name. Your thoughts about what he’s saying about your sister’s son?
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: I’m not an extremely religiously observant person, but I take seriously the admonitions which our faith has given us to protect the refugee and welcome the stranger, so I find myself not in disagreement with Stephen Miller’s rabbi. The United States is a great country, a large country, a wealthy country. We have wonderful expertise in absorbing refugees and immigrants. The United States also has treaty obligations and laws, which enable us and regulate the management of refugee applications in the United States. The current administration is doing everything it can in order to reduce the total number of immigrants, be they legal or illegal.
And I think they do it for, frankly, demographic, political reasons. Most demographers think that by 2045, that people of predominantly European origin, white European origin, are no longer going to be a majority in the United States. They will remain a plurality, but not a majority. And it’s a demonstrated fact that people of—that nonwhite people are less likely to vote Republican. Accordingly, I think this fits in very well with—this is one of the reasons I think why the Republican Party, which had once been the party of family values and the moral majority, are willing to tolerate Trumpism—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I—
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: —which bases itself—go ahead.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m wondering if you could talk about some of the volunteer work that you’ve been doing, and also you’ve worked with some refugees, specifically one from Eritrea that you’ve talked about in the past.
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: Since my retirement, I decided to act as a volunteer in these issues. I felt that the immigration issue is very important, and my own family was helped by one of these volunteer organizations, something called HIAS, which my great-grandfather—it was the first beneficiary in his will, in fact. So I volunteered with HIAS as a neuropsychologist.
People who are coming to the United States who make legal application for asylum are called asylees. They’re able to—any way that they come to the country, be they at a border legally or whether they just infiltrate the country illegally—people who report and ask for asylum, according to American law, are allowed to do so and must have a hearing. Part of what they have to do, according to U.S. law and U.N.—and the United States is also a signatory to U.N. commission rules and treaties—according to our laws, part of what they have to do is they have to demonstrate that they have a reasonable fear of persecution if they remain in or return to their country—persecution or danger.
Now, people like the gentleman in my story, Joseph, who was grossly tortured and mistreated as a child soldier, a child conscript in his home country of Eritrea, and managed to escape with his life, upon his exit from Eritrea, they don’t provide him with a certificate documenting that he had been the victim of torture and persecution. So when he gets to the United States after his 10-year journey, he has got to make the case that he has a good reason to be afraid of going back to Eritrea.
Accordingly, there are voluntary agencies, such as the ones that I’ve been volunteering for, who have attorneys, doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and so forth, who help these people to make their—to establish whether or not they have a reasonable fear of return. So, physicians and psychologists and, in my case, neuropsychologists will listen to the story and see if there’s evidence that people have suffered persecution, torture and the like, both for the physical and as well as the biological as well as the mental scars that may arise.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see your work as a kind of atonement for your nephew, Stephen Miller?
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: No, not at all. I don’t have any obligation to atone for anybody else’s sins. To the extent that I enact atonement, it would be for my own faults. I see this as part of my duty as an ethical human being and as an American citizen.
AMY GOODMAN: Did many of your family members agree with you? Did people in your family want you to come forward?
DR. DAVID GLOSSER: It’s an interesting question. Prior to this, I had been writing and speaking on the subject to some degree, but various members of my family implored me to seek a wider audience so that our name not be associated with these policies. After the Politico article came out, I received no less than a hundred phone calls, letters, emails, public social media comments and so forth, from family members, both close members and those I don’t even know, thanking me for the piece.
The other interesting part of this is that after this story went more or less viral on the web, I received literally thousands of contacts through social media, through email and telephone and postal mail, from people thanking me for having written it, because so many people have a story just like ours and just like that of other immigrants trying to come into the country to escape persecution.
The thing that really surprised me was I had expected a flood of trolls and negative comments and death threats and the like. As a matter of fact, there were only four or five people who were frank white supremacists and admitted Nazis and KKKers and white supremacist types who trolled me. Which, other than that, out of the many hundreds and thousands of people, there was a tremendous wave of support. I think people are looking for some sort of a mental—of how shall we say—a moral clarity on the subject, so they not be associated with acts like the imprisonment of these 2,500 or 3,000 children at our borders.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dr. Glosser, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Dr. David Glosser is uncle of Stephen Miller, the senior aide, well known for his anti-immigrant views, to President Trump, who, among other things, it’s believed, crafted Trump’s U.N. speech yesterday. Dr. Glosser, retired neuropsychologist, former faculty member at Boston University School of Medicine and Jefferson Medical College. We’ll link to your piece at Politico with the headline “Stephen Miller Is an Immigration Hypocrite. I Know Because I’m His Uncle.” Dr. Glosser works with refugees now in Philadelphia. This is Democracy Now, as we turn to continue to look at immigration.